When the Moto X was first announced back in August, there was a surprising lack of enthusiasm, even disdain, that echoed around the industry. Here was a device that featured some truly thoughtful software additions, yet people immediately wrote it off for its lack of "flagship" specs. Forget that it gave users the option to choose the back, front and accent colors. Because it didn't match up on paper to handsets like the Galaxy S4 or HTC One, it was considered bad. This was before anybody had even tried it.
We were convinced Motorola had created something special.
Over the past few months, I've grown confident in choosing the Moto X as my smartphone of the year, and wholeheartedly believe it's better than anything else currently available. I'm not arguing it has the best display, or the best specs—it doesn't. But it's easily the best all-around Android handset—maybe the best all-arounder ever—sporting a comfortable size, terrific design and enough speed to get you through Netflix, email, or just simple Web browsing with ease. It also comes equipped with as close to stock Android as you can get with still having a few system enhancing tweaks, and in many ways is more enjoyable to use thanks to Motorola's software enhancements.
What stands out for me in particular is Motorola's implementation of Touchless Control and Active Display, which both expand the Moto X's overall quality tremendously. First, Touchless Control essentially allows you to perform any task—whether the Moto X is locked or not, unlike the Nexus 5—such as calling friends, sending messages, or getting directions with only your voice. Motorola even allows you to program the software to recognize your voice, and your voice only, so you don't get spammed by friends constantly saying "OK, Google Now." It's powerful, and once you use it, you won't feel comfortable settling for anything less. Not even Google's own always listening "OK, Google" hot word feature in KitKat is as powerful.
Active Display is equally as terrific, allowing users to quickly glance at notifications and, best of all, the time, without ever having to wake the device from sleep. Who would have thought such a quick glance feature would come in so handy? Once you use it, it's difficult surviving without it; I can't help but solemnly gaze at other blank smartphone screens, wishing it would flash the time without my intervention. Using the feature is super simple; your latest notifications will breath in and out on the screen, giving you a quick glance at, say, an email that a friend just sent. When you want to jump directly to that email, simply swipe up into that notification and you'll jump right to the app. You can also swipe notifications away by sliding your finder to the right, or simply unlock your device as you normally would.
The feature definitely isn't perfect, as we noted in our review, and Touchless Control is either a feature you'll use often or not at all. But, above anything else, they're smart tweaks that are genuinely useful. The last, and certainly not least, of Motorola's tweaks is Motorola Assist, which silences your phone when you're in a meeting, reads texts and responds when you're driving, and snoozes your device between a set time you designate so you're not bombarded by notifications when you sleep. Combined, these three tweaks make a more intelligent phone—not one stuffed with more features just because—and a better, more powerful experience for consumers overall.
Build quality is also a huge part of what makes the Moto X so special. Holding it compared to something like the Galaxy S4, the difference is night and day; the soft touch back feels wonderful, and there's a nice heft. The curve makes it more comfortable to hold with one hand, and Motorola's decision to add a dimple on the back, right where your index finger rests, is brilliant. It absolutely trumps the G2's rear power and volume buttons, which is located in the same place. Simplicity personified.
MotoMaker is just as brilliant, letting users customize the shell, accent and front colors of the device. You've probably seen the commercials. It might not seem like a huge deal, but Motorola's free service goes a long way to making your device feel unique, which is hard to do when all flagships today are simply black slabs. I went with an army green rear shell, silver accents and a black front, and I absolutely love it. How many other OEMs offer a similar service? In total, Motorola touts over 2,000 possible combinations, which is a lot better than simply offering a few different colors at launch.
Another big reason why I love the Moto X so much is that it gets tremendous battery life, though that's not particularly uncommon nowadays. During typical use—texting, listening to music, email, watching YouTube videos, playing games—it easily gets me through the day and then some. It's nice not having to worry about battery—Motorola made it a huge priority when the device launched—especially when we're so connected. The battery isn't removable, unfortunately, though that isn't an issue for me at all. Many big smartphones this year, including the Nexus 5, iPhone 5s and HTC one have batteries that can't be removed, so it's certainly not unusual.
Best of all, Motorola has really committed itself to the Moto X—see Todd's opinion—by adding continually adding unobtrusive features, and even getting the device updated to Android 4.4 KitKat just weeks after Google unveiled the update. The latest OS update didn't necessarily add that much to Motorola's handset, but it just underlines the company's admirable dedication; the only other devices currently running KitKat have Nexus branding.
Lastly, Motorola backed the Moto X up with some of this year's most informative and hilarious commercials, titled "Lazy Phone." The ads perfectly encapsulated what the Moto X was trying to achieve, showcasing the device's easy-to-use features while making light of other "lazy" smartphones. Even if you're not on the Moto X bandwagon, you have to appreciate Motorola's ads, which used informative humor to good effect. So often tech commercials fall flat, and are more painful to watch than they are funny; the Lazy Phone ads deserve a special nod.
The Moto X does have its shortcomings, as does every other phone. Some people find the screen size (and resolution) to be too small, and the camera has been a sore spot since launch. Motorola did introduce an update that promised to address the camera issues, and for the most part performance was improved. Smartphone users expect quality images, and even though the Moto X takes better images than it did when it launched, it's by no means the best out there. And that odd flip gesture to open the camera up isn't Motorola's most revolutionary feature.
Otherwise, the Moto X is nearly the perfect phone—the design, stock UI, software additions and Moto Maker feature take it to a different level. Motorola focused purely on you, the user, which not a lot of companies seem to do nowadays. The fact that it has the latest version of Android makes it that much sweeter. The device was maybe priced a little too high when it launched, but it's currently selling for cheap on all carriers, making it one of the best values on the market. If you skipped out on the Moto X because it wasn't up to your "flagship" standards, you're missing out big time. I can't wait to see how Motorola improves on the next iteration.
My top choice for the year is the Moto X, though I admit the iPhone 5s comes in at a close second. Perhaps once left for dead, Motorola made a huge comeback this year by showing that a device doesn't need to have a dazzling spec sheet just to rock. The entire Moto X experience is praiseworthy, from the software, to the customizable hardware and ultimately the form factor. Even better, Motorola has also also showed that it cares about the phone, providing frequent software updates and even the latest version of Android. I can't wait to see what's next.
Jon R's Choice
In a year of iterative devices, this was the first truly original phone/design. I love the unibody design, ultrapixel camera, and came to really appreciate Sense. When I look back on all the phones I tested in 2013, I have the fondest memories of the One. Now HTC, when can I have the Two?
HTC One Google Play Edition
The iPhone has lived comfortably in my right pocket since 2007 but nowadays it competes against the HTC One Google Play Edition. With an amazing build quality and a large 1080p screen, the HTC One puts up a good fight against my iPhone 5s. Stock Android runs without a hitch on the beefy Snapdragon 600 and BoomSound makes watching videos on any other smartphone unbearable. To me, the HTC One GPE is the first Android phone that can truly compete against the iPhone and one that deserves a chance in anyones pocket.
HTC One J
It came down to crunch time earlier this year. I was up for a new contract through KDDI au and had two major front runners for my phone of choice: the iPhone 5s and HTC One J. It seemed like a sure-fire choice to finally join the 76 percent of Japanese people who switched to the iPhone that month, but a friend showed off his recently acquired HTC One phone, and I fell in love at first sight.
The perfectly sized screen for my hands, the speaker on the phones face for easy listening, the speedy camera and lightning fast photo sharing options. I've taken my HTC One J on many trips since I bought it, and it hasn't let me down yet. My photos are gorgeous, and everyone can see how my life abroad has been thanks to its glorious megapixels.
KDDI au's sale on the phone at the time dropped it down $100, and my contract with JCOM also took it down another $100. Points added to my overall discount, I walked away with the best phone on the market for an incredible price. My only regret is buying a black one when I knew I wanted the red model deep down in my heart. There's always next time I go phone shopping, when it's very likely I'll be sticking with HTC.
Don't let the "J" on the end of it trick you into thinking its something special. It's just Japan trying to be different like always.
I followed Ubuntu's proposed flagship closely as it slowly edged towards its ambitious crowd-funding goal. Sadly, my dreams of a cutting-edge 128GB smartphone were dashed when Canonical failed to raise the necessary cash, though I still have faith some other company will pick up where Ubuntu left off. Canonical promised to release some sort of Ubuntu OS phone next year, though we all know it won't compare to the device that could have been.
Moto X & Galaxy Note 3
My choice for favorite phone of the year is the Moto X and the Galaxy Note 3. I like the Moto X for its near stock Android look and feel, but love the additional Moto Assist and Google Now features. Overall it is one of the most pleasant smartphone experiences around. However my only complaint about the device is the camera, it is a bit noisy, its not the quickest shooter around and its quite horrible in low light conditions. I prefer to use the Note 3 as to take photos and video, I also like the Note 3 because of its large, crisp, bright display. It is not rare for me to be carrying both devices, I like them both but for different reasons.
Galaxy Mega 6.3
Many people mocked the Galaxy Mega 6.3 when it was announced earlier this year, and I totally understand why. That being said, there are some definite use cases where a screen that large comes in super handy.
The Mega 6.3 was one of three phones I took with me on my recent vacation to England. (The others being an iPhone 5 and the LG G2) The Mega 6.3 was definitely my go to phone when I was out and about. Yes, the screen, like most Samsung screens, was not the best in direct sunlight, but due to the size you could still easily read Google Maps. When you're walking around a city you don't know and you have to keep checking that frequently, that was a huge bonus… no pun intended.
This is certainly not a phone for everyone, and some of its use cases are very specific, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand just due to its size. There are definitely times where that extra screen real estate pays off, and I applaud Samsung for giving it a go.
This sounds like a completely insane choice coming from someone who sang the HTC One's praises all year (not to mention uses an iPhone 5s as their daily driver), but I promise there's a method to my madness.
Hear me out: the Moto X might not be the beefiest phone on the market, have the biggest screen out there, or offer availability outside the U.S., but Motorola did something I'd love to see other OEMs start doing: they focused on the experience of a smartphone, rather than pure specs. Customizing the Moto X to suit who you are at a particular point in time is a great step towards ultra-customizable phones (see: Project Ara/Phonebloks).
At this point in my life, I'm way more interested in how a phone can hit my personal tastes via technology, as opposed to wasted potential and wacky apps I won't ever use (I'm looking at you, Galaxy Note 3). For me, even though the Moto X isn't the phone I'm using on a day-to-day basis, it's the device of the year because of what it stands for and what it could mean for consumers and customization.
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